Cancer: Chemo, and Other Side Effects.

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I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  No one is, I assume, but mentally AND physically my body has been through a major trauma.  And as I think about the past year, I have to think about chemo and what it’s done. Before I started chemo, I remember feeling this dark curiosity towards it. I was curious. A strong body like I thought I had - what was chemo going to do? And as someone who was never sick, what was chemo going to do? Was I going to feel sick all of the time? Was I going to have to stop working?  Would I have to stop going out?  Having fun?  Drinking?  Eating? What was going to happen? I really wanted to dive right into it. I also wanted to call chemo ‘medicine’ as opposed to ‘poison’. Chemo was hopefully going to save my life, so I better treat it with a little respect, no? I better bow down to it and love it and love the fact that I could receive chemo. Chemo HAD to be the bomb! Also, every time I sat in my chair looking out the window, I was consciously asking the universe, ‘Please let me receive this medicine to kill the bad cells and save the good ones. Please allow this medicine to heal me. Thank you for giving me this medicine. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get rid of the cancer cells. Thank you.’ 

And it was a success. Chemo worked so fast on my large 7cm plus tumor, that by the 3rd round of chemo, my doctors had a hard time feeling it! My doctors were so shocked at how fast the tumor was shrinking, that it filled me up with so much gratitude. And it was all gratitude for chemo, for finding the right medicine that would save me, that DID save me. 

I’ve learned with every up there is a down, and it definitely wasn’t all fun and games and happiness.There was a lot of pain, a lot of nights where I couldn't sleep because I felt so nauseous, a lot of tears coming from exhaustion, frustration of not feeling like myself, and a lot of doctor visits and blood tests, just to make sure I was surviving the treatment. I remember having to carry a thermometer in my purse because if my temp ever got past 99.9, I had to go to the emergency room. I was not allowed to get my nails done for risk of infection. I wasn’t supposed to be in large crowds because of germs. I basically had no immune system, so you kind of have to live in a bubble. But for the most part, I was lucky. I NEVER got sick even when my husband and family were all catching the flu. I didn’t have to stop working even though I was a lot more tired than normal. I didn't stop my normal exercise routine, and I didn’t even stop having fun once in a while. Today, however, I’m living with a lot of after effects that I’m not always so happy about, and as much as I want to be back to ‘normal’, I’m definitely not… 

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1.   Fatigue: This was the first thing the doctors told me I would experience, without a doubt. And they were right. I remember being on a stationary bike and feeling exhausted after only riding for 5 minutes. I remember taking my dog on walks and not being able to get up the hills I used to do daily. I used to be a gymnast, so all of this was very humbling to me. I never used to nap, and I became a daily napper. But it gave me a chance to actually listen to my body and do what it needed me to do. I needed to rest more, go to bed earlier say NO to fun events, and say YES to sleeping in. I’m a lot better these days. I can walk my hills, I can ride the stationary bike, I can do Pilates class and teach all of my yoga clients… however, I DO need more rest that I did before chemo, and I DO allow myself to nap now and then without feeling guilty :) 

2.  Nausea: I was fortunately only nauseous for 1 to 5 days after chemo, where it was hard to eat.  Also, my taste buds were changing, making things that I used to love not taste so good, making things I didn't like so much taste amazing - it was really weird!  The first couple of chemo rounds made wine taste AMAZING… like grape juice, it was quenching my thirst, it was hitting the spot, and it didn't need to be expensive or anything, it just needed to be red. Also salty things tasted amazing; chips, fries, red meat, pretzels, popcorn… it was all I was craving, and probably not the best diet for cancer, but my doctors said whatever I wanted to eat was ok during chemo because you’re just lucky to be able to eat. I wanted cold things too, like ice cream or ice chips, or fruit, grapes, blueberries, apples, those all tasted good to me. I didn't want to eat fish too much, or sugary things were not a turn on. Coffee, which I drank every day, did not taste good to me. I knew I was back to normal when coffee started tasting good to me, and normal was good back then. I didn’t end up losing OR gaining weight which was a possibility. If anything, I lost a lot of muscle because I wasn’t working out, but mostly I felt heavier because chemo makes your capillaries retain fluids so I felt bloated all of the time.   

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3.  Chemo brain: I didn’t get this right away, but now being 6 months after chemo, my memory is definitely NOT like it was before. And stupid things happen like, you’re trying to remember a famous song and you know the guy but you can’t think of his name and it could be Elton John!  Or you mix up your friend’s names. Or you can’t remember the fight you had the day before…? These are just some examples of how it appears to lose your mind. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely lasting. I hear that it will go away eventually, but as of now, I am definitely living with chemo brain. At least I have an excuse when I don’t remember something!

4.  Mood swings: I don’t have these so much anymore, but during chemo, I was a roller coaster, and the person who suffered the most from my moods swings was my husband. Basically, it’s like being on your period, times 100! I would cry for no reason, I would be mean, I would call for ‘my mommy’, I was a mess… and then sometimes I was so happy, so full of craziness, so full of life… There was no rhyme or reason, it was just another thing I had to surrender to…and my husband and to deal ;) 

5.  Dead libido: Chemo has shut down my ovaries forever, kind of sad, very sad, I will never get a period again, but kind of cool, I will never get a period again :)  But as a young woman who loved sex, sex became such a chore. It also was painful. I was so dry. Ouch, I don't want to think about it… Thank god I had a husband who understood all of these temporary effects, and thank God it was only temporary. You never know whether something is going to be ‘forever’ or not. All you know it that you are experiencing something soooooooo different to what you normally experience, and can you please please please get back to who you were, Well, I will never get back to where I was exactly, but I can say as a pre-menopausal woman, the libido is making its way back to being alive again, slowly, very slowly, but surely… 

All in all, I am not the same after chemo, and I heard it takes a good year to 2 years to get back to feeling ‘normal’ again. I’m not sure I will ever feel ‘normal’ again, but then again, I never really felt ‘normal’ to begin with?!  All I can say is chemo was not fun. And looking back, I think it was helpful to NOT KNOW what was going to happen. For me, it made it less scary and I was more curious. If I had to do it all again, knowing everything I know now, I would not be happy. I might be more scared, more depressed, because it was really hard and trying on my body and my psyche. I was strong because I didn't know any better. I might not be as strong the second time around, but then again, you are what you need to be, and why am I even worrying about it? I am NOT going to have to go through chemo again… NEVER!